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A world of flavours even amid pandemic

NEW YORK (AFP) – Across ethnically rich New York, you can easily dine on food from 100-plus countries. Or you can just go to the borough of Queens, where an incredibly diverse food scene is thriving even in these pandemic days.

Located across the East River from Manhattan, Queens has benefitted from steady immigration that has built up a fabulously varied culinary stage. “Of the five boroughs, Queens is the one with the most diverse population… with over 100 ethnicities, by my count,” said a food writer for Eater.com Robert Sietsema.

He said nobody knows the exact number of communities, as immigrants keep coming in.
“Tibetans and Nepalese have recently arrived in Jackson Heights, for example,” he said, referring to one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods of this borough of nearly 2.5 million people.

Indeed, a journey through Queens is an exotic feast of flavours, aromas and textures, its offerings expanding even as the pandemic has hit New York hard. This month alone four new restaurants opened in Queens, serving food from Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore and Italy, according to Eater.com.

And the situation is fluid in this most dynamic of cities as neighbourhoods and their culinary offerings constantly evolve. The visitor to Queens will find everything from Colombian arepas to Greek moussaka, hummus from Lebanon, and Brazilian feijoada, a hearty stew of black beans and beef.

A woman walks past a Nepalese and Tibetan restaurant in the Queens borough of New York City. PHOTOS: AFP
A street vendor sells candied Hawthorne sticks
Cook Alfredo Lopez in the kitchen of the Arepa Lady restaurant

In 2015, Instagram influencer Andy Doro set himself the goal of touring the world – culinarily speaking – by eating his way through as many ethnic restaurants in New York as he could. He got stuck at 145 countries. “It’s very easy to get to 100,” he told AFP, but “now, you know, I’ve been stuck in the 140s. I’m at 145.”

And a good number of them are in Queens. Doro showed off some favourite spots on a tour through the borough’s snowy streets, starting in the heart of Jackson Heights.

The area once attracted many people of Colombian origin, and now has become “a big centre for a lot of South Asian and Himalayan countries – so Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh,” Doro said.

At tiny Yun Cafe, 25-year-old Yun Naing, a recent arrival from Myanmar, said she keeps her cuisine authentic by importing ingredients – tea leaves, chili powder and more – from back home.

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